The Person Right Here

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

True confession: because we work at a church, we don’t always hit a church on vacation Sundays. Because, in too many ways, church = work. We love Jesus, but we can’t help evaluating church (What would we do differently? What could we do differently?) in the midst of worship.

Seventeen years of vacationing in this one town, and this year the Spirit took us to church. A church plant/launch that began one month after our last vacation here: we noticed, we felt intrigued, we went to church.

We loved it! Inviting music, insightful sermon, everything felt familiar in the best ways, comfortable and unforced and, oh yeah baby, This Is Church!

It’s truly something when church ‘professionals’ are able to so fully enter a worship experience… So of course we wanted to greet the pastor, to thank him and connect and jive on this great God-led morning.

In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t.

He was all smiles at the handshake. Less so when he learned we were clergy on vacation. He said, “Hey, do you mind if I make the rounds?”

Of course, it is the pastor’s job to greet his own flock.

We made our way to their generous coffee hour, coffee and cookies and homemade apple pie–lions and tigers and bears, Oh My–the hospitality! People were warm, smiling, edging us deeper in.

When I joined Guy next to the always-welcome morning coffee, he was thanking the worship leader for her leadership. She couldn’t contain her God-and-church enthusiasm. She gushed her love for this church and what it has meant to their family, how they have experienced God in this place. We couldn’t help but smile and be grateful to God who makes all things new.

Still, I left feeling uneasy. The service had been an amazing whole, but…?

It hit me later: I saw a dimming in the pastor’s eyes, after we had shaken hands, when he realized we were not going to be new converts or new congregants. We were not going to be his. And so, we didn’t matter, at least in ways that matter. To him. I felt like, because we wouldn’t count, we didn’t count.

As Guy and I walked the coast, I told him my impression, my dis-ease even after an incredible worship experience. I encouraged him: the person in front of you is the person that matters. Not for what they can give you or how they might count on a tally sheet. They matter: to God, and to you.

The pastor should have been stoked to have another pastor totally digging the service he’d crafted. We went to the same grad school, had the same professors—that alone should have been reason to connect. We’re in sister denominations—another reason.

Instead, he seemed eager to be on to the next person. And if that person is someone in his congregation or community with whom he wholeheartedly engages, fine. Appropriate.

Except, we went to coffee hour. And never saw him again.

The worship leader got it. She was happy to share her experience of God in this place, happy to connect with people who want to connect.

A year from now, I imagine we will again plop ourselves in their pews. The experience warrants another go. And every other Sunday between now and then—every day between now and then—I hope we both remember that whoever stands in front of us is the gift God has given us in that moment.

Getting to Know You

If you want to get to know me but you only invite me to large group gatherings and never have time for a chat over a cuppa joe, you might describe me as awkward, or unfriendly, or cold.

I hope I’m not truly awkward, unfriendly, or cold. However, as an introvert, large group settings are not my comfort zone. If you want to get to know me, it sure helps to know that smaller, more intimate settings are where I open up and can be my best self.

Like the story you’ve probably heard about the blind men and the elephant. Each man stood near a different section of the massive creature. As they felt tail, or trunk, or side, or leg, each described what sounded like a different animal. They didn’t understand they were describing parts of a whole and so they missed the truth of the elephant.

Sadly, it’s possible to do the same thing with Jesus. If we only want to think of Him as a good guy, a teacher, a buddy, and don’t acknowledge His divinity, His saving work on the cross, His indwelling Spirit that confirms for us the Truth about who He really is in all His glory, then we’ve actually missed getting to know Him at all.

God’s Church is massive, and each individual church has a different style and approach to knowing God. That’s fine, but to truthfully proclaim Jesus, there are a few essential Christian beliefs:

Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He lived to show us how to live humanly, and He died to pay the price for our sins so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Love God and love for His people are the basic and greatest commandments, and they are how we show that we know and love Him (yes, that sounds like circular logic: to show we love God we love God and His children, but it works).

The denomination to which our church belongs has a helpful motto: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

If it matters for salvation (and Jesus as fully God and fully human sure does), we hold those things in common.

If it doesn’t matter for salvation but is a matter of interpretation and practice, you do you.

But in all things, we share God’s love. Because we love God, and loving God means loving His children.

Walk in Love
Week 11: Victory & Assurance
1 John 5:1-12

Connect
What is important for someone to understand about you as they get to know you, and why?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:1-12.
What is important to believe about Jesus (vv1, 5)?
Explain John’s argument about loving God and loving God’s children (vv1-4).
What do we learn about Jesus from His baptism and crucifixion (“water and blood”)? What would be different about Christianity if we believed only one or the other (vv6-10)?
Explain the significance of the three who testify about Jesus (vv6-12). What do they testify?
What encouragement does this passage hold for one who believes in Jesus, God’s incarnate Son, who died for our sins?

Live
What difference does God’s Spirit, testifying to Jesus as God’s Son who lived and died for us, make to your daily decisions?
How do you lovingly handle differences of belief with others who also say they believe in Jesus?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:23-24. How do you share the good news of the cross with someone who thinks it’s foolishness?
How do you recognize the testimony of the Spirit?
How do/can God’s children encourage you to stick to the essentials of Christian faith?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray The Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Hold the Truth Tight

Conflict. Bleh.

With so much conflict in the world, one could hope the church would be a conflict-free zone.

Far from it. The Bible speaks clearly about the Church’s enemy who stirs up discord and strife. And if you’ve been around the Church for even some time, you’ve likely seen it.

I’ve been involved in Church my whole life and in leadership since I reached an age where leadership opportunities became available.

I’ve seen…
Small groups, pretending to be friends, treat their own members brutally.
People poised to react rather than respond, attack rather than listen.
Individuals assume a leadership role for the specific purpose of taking others down.
Abuse of power, its personal and corporate devastation.
The hard work required to attempt to heal backfire on the very ones working to bring peace.
Bad leadership, bad followership, political infighting, and church splits.

All that and I still love the Church. I’m still involved, still in leadership. But why does it seem the Church is hell-bent on living out that old question: With friends like these, who needs enemies?

We can blame it on the enemy, the Church’s enemy or our perceived human enemy. We can blame it on circumstances, constraints, resources, human nature.

Truly, I think it comes down to one thing: conflict erupts when those in the Church take their eyes off Jesus Christ.

When we agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully God and fully human;
that He came to show us the way back to our Heavenly Father, to take the punishment for our sins;
because He loves us that much;
that He sent us His Spirit to guide us day in and out;
and that He calls us to love Him and others as ourselves…

…well, that ought to result in reliance on Him to help us love one another even (especially) when it’s hard. It ought to bring about unity and the willingness to put aside our agendas to listen well. It ought to shape our prayers and our behavior as we look at one another with God’s loving eyes.

We can disagree on a lot of other issues if we agree on that.

When conflict erupts, it would sure help if we got back to basics.

Walk in Love
Week 5: Hold to the Truth
1 John 2:18-27

Connect
Reflect a recent conflict you’ve encountered and how you handled it.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 2:18-27.
How does John explain what has happened in his church (vv18-19)?
What is “the truth” and what is a lie (vv20-25)?
How does John use his followers’ “anointing” to equip and encourage them (vv20, 27)?
What is the relationship between knowing the truth and remaining in the Son?

Live
Have you ever experienced a church split or other significant split of Christian community? What did you learn from the experience?
Why does it matter what we believe about Jesus?
What does your anointing mean to you?
How do you ‘remain’ in the Son?
Reflect on this quote: “Christian life is not merely a cognitive embrace of Christ; it is an engagement, an encounter with Christ in the Spirit.”—Gary M. Burge.
How could someone try to lead you astray today?
What significance does ‘the end’ have for you? How might you live with ‘the end’ in mind?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to fill you with knowledge of and experience with His beloved Son.

Note: I highly recommend the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. For more information, check out Peacemaker Ministries.

Care Packages

Our church has a tradition of sending care packages to college students as a way of continuing to share love with them even when they cannot be with us. Over the years I have enjoyed writing notes to kids I know, encouraging them to hang in there and that, yes, we do notice you’re not here and we care.

This year, just as my kid would be on the receiving end, the project almost fell by the wayside. I stepped up to save it since I knew just how much real mail could mean to kids weathering tough transitions. Truly, any college kid.

When I attended college, I got mail from my mom and my church. The church sent postcards for events I couldn’t attend because I was out of town, which felt insulting: did they not notice my address? And if they did, why not write a quick note? Or at least take me off the list? My experience fueled my desire to encourage other college students.

I’ve written previously that I have never before been to the Post Office so regularly as I have been since the Big Kid started college out of state. And while I am great at writing notes, and encouraging others to write notes, or cheerleading people acting as encouragers, I stink at administering details.

The project became one more stressor in an already stressful season. I often said, “I could use a care package!”

A few weeks ago, I went to visit my college kid. Minutes after we arrived at his dorm room he said, “Oh, Mom, I wanted to show you this…” He held up a reusable plastic envelope filled with cards. He explained, “It’s every card I’ve received since I arrived at college.” The notes from his dad and me, his grandparents, friends, church members and Scout leaders, the cards I was sure were being skimmed and recycled… No, they were being read and reread, treasured.

I should mention: he didn’t know I’d taken up this project. He shared because he knew it would touch me to know how much those cards meant to him. I took his picture, better that than welling up with tears.

Eventually it came together. We gathered 75 college addresses for kids who grew up in our church, or whose parents/grandparents attend our church. We collected donations of microwave popcorn and Halloween candy, and lots and lots of encouraging notes: many written to kids people knew and others written generically to kids no one knew well enough. We also collected dozens of home-baked cookies to send study break packages to small groups organized by our church’s mission partners working on college campuses—and included plenty of hand-written notes to those kids, most of whom we will never meet.

On a Saturday morning, about fifteen volunteers came together to assemble USPS flat-rate boxes, to write yet more notes, to stuff popcorn and candy and cookies into boxes. My morning had not gone according to plan (of course not, because life), and I arrived late and frazzled. Yet there they were, faithful helpers already on task loving on kids away from home.

It had felt to me like details enough to drown me, yet one dear gal said, “We’re like water, settling in to our well-worn spots.” Yes. My spot is encouraging, not organizing. But I stuck it out, I told the story, and people filled in their places in a beautiful whole.

When we finished in less time than we’d allotted, we gathered around the boxes to pray. And there it was: my care package. These friends and servants prayed for our kids, for strength and perseverance and guidance. They prayed for professors and mentors to come around them. They prayed for roommates and suitemates and hallmates, boyfriends and girlfriends, all of whom might wonder why a church would send care packages to college kids. They prayed God’s love and peace would shower over these precious young people. This time, I couldn’t hide my tears.

I couldn’t have imagined the impact on our postal workers. It took two of us making multiple trips with arms full to carry in all the boxes: their eyes went wide. I sensed their initial shock, then overwhelm, then deep breaths as they settled into a rhythm of typing in zip codes and printing labels, restacking boxes along the way. Eventually, they began to laugh, thanking us for supporting the US Postal Service.

They asked what we could possibly be mailing to individuals all over the country; when we explained, they grew visibly happier to have a role to play in this big act of encouragement. When after almost an hour we were done, they were also done for the day. One postal worker declared, “Since everyone should have a little something for joy, here you go!” He reached under the counter and pulled out two Dove chocolates for Guy and me.

Last night I received another care package: my kid, home for the first time, three months to the day since college move-in. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Receive Correction

When I reflect on my lifetime in God’s house, I have to acknowledge God’s grace that I’m still here. Especially in my own tween/teen years, well-intended church-going do-gooders decided it was their Christian duty to beat me over the head with (often misinterpreted) Scripture. Though they aimed to “speak truth in love” (another Scripture taken out of context), they didn’t love but judged. For whatever reason they plucked from the air that week, they insisted I didn’t measure up and had to conform. They were wise (in their own eyes) and I had reason to “fear the Lord,” they said.

Fear them, is more accurate.

Of course there are appropriate occasions for discipline. Parent to child. Spouse to spouse. Teacher to child. Mentor to mentee. Dear friends, one to another. In large part, the right to speak discipline to another is an earned privilege.

The problem comes when we set ourselves to tweeze the splinter from another’s eye—without permission, usually—when we haven’t first spent sufficient time humbly on our knees, letting God surgically remove the log from our eyes. Rather than offering relief, in blindness we risk inflicting more blindness.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. We in the Church bear witness to the True Word of God Incarnate through the Truth in God’s written Word. But rather than pointing to Truth’s freedom and the sacrificial love of our Savior, we too casually wield our interpretation of truth as a weapon. We all need way more grace.

Notice I lump myself in, “we” and not merely “they.” Hurt people hurt people. I confess I’ve done it, too: been too free with judgmental words. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Sin clouds every human being and every organization, the Church necessarily included. We pray for better among God’s people but—maybe because we claim to have access to the Truth?—the Church is regularly a repeat offender. Sadly, I completely understand why so many, including people I love dearly, want nothing to do with it.

Yet, God calls us to community, to corporate worship, to life together, and so I remain committed to His beloved, broken institution. And though I strive to remain open and soft-hearted, I hold my scarred heart gingerly when it comes to receiving correction. Of course I want to grow in wisdom. I’m just careful about who claims to be offering wisdom.

God, though… He’s not safe but He is good, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. His Word, regularly studied and prayed, in truth offers Truth. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Spirit of God, speaking to our hearts through the inspired Word of God, tells us what we need to know (teaching), stop (rebuking), change (correcting), and do (training in righteousness) so that we’re ready for all the good things God has planned for us.

His correction gives life. He keeps me on course, directing me on right paths. He created me and knows the intricate details He built into my wiring, and so only He truly knows how to steer me in the right direction.

You be you, says the world, but God only knows how I can be my best me. God’s love and continual restoration of this life He gave me makes spending time with Him in His life-giving Word so worth the discipline of invested time.

Deep & Wise: Uncommon Sense from the Proverbs
Week 2 – Receive Correction

Connect
Reflect on an important lesson you’ve learned recently.

Study
Read aloud Proverbs 12:1.
How would you explain the connection between discipline, knowledge, and correction?Read aloud Proverbs 3:5-8, 11-12.
According to these verses, what does it look like to trust the Lord? How is that related to correction?
Why should someone trust the Lord?
Read aloud Proverbs 15:31-33.
How does correction give life?
What does it mean to “fear the Lord”?

Live
Generally, do you tend to despise or heed correction? What makes the difference in your response?
How does the Lord offer His discipline/correction? How can you receive it?
What role does trust play in receiving correction?
How can receiving the Lord’s correction increase your trust in Him?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be open to receiving the Lord’s correction.

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ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Full Friday – March 2017

The week before spring break is a crazy one in our office as each year we prepare to send about 250 people from our church and community to Mexico to build hope and homes with AMOR. This year, in this one week, our group will build fourteen homes.

I am FULL of gratitude for this trip, this experience, that changes lives in Mexico and the Bay Area. The chaos that precedes the trip dims in contrast to the bright light God shines through the trip itself. I can’t wait to hear all the stories on the other end…!

That crazy-office week continues to our home. My sweet Guy leads this trip every year, and every year it surprises me (again! How can I be surprised again?) how much work it takes to plan. In addition, this year Teen is–at long last–a senior and a student leader for one of the house builds. Quite literally, he has anticipated this trip his entire life, and it’s almost here…

The FULL schedule means I have not been as present to the blog as I like. I have put on pause several posts just because there aren’t enough hours in any day. I had hoped to post a Meatless Monday recipe for National Spinach Day (3/27) but, as much as I ❤ spinach!, I didn’t have a spare minute to decide which particular spinach recipe I’d post. I started writing a re:create recess post for Wednesday before the day slipped away. I planned to write a Thankful Thursday post, and instead said a happy Yes! to a friend’s request for a short walk around the dog park, a healthy antidote to stress.

So here we are: Friday. The week has been FULL-to-the-brim. My heart is FULL: the hectic pace pulls in tow joy, gratitude, frustration, bite-your-tongue bleeding, tears, and laughter (um, have I mentioned I’m just a wee bit emotional?).

And now, now it’s time to take a deep breath and a rest. We have a week. Nine days, including weekends. Half of our little family will be in Mexico, working and serving and growing. Half will spend intentional time resting and playing together, growing in altogether different ways.

I may feel energy-empty and heart-full now but, during this week, I plan to fill up on rest; to fill up on moments and memories with my darling Tween; to fill up little accomplishments in a lot of arenas; to fill up my body with satisfying rest, fulfilling exercise, and delicious food. I want to exit this week FULL in completely different ways.

Meanwhile, here are some recent pictures that fill my heart with beauty.

For dinner tonight, I’m making (again) an entirely satisfying soup (stew) that will linger as tummy-yummy leftovers this weekend (my friend keeps sharing her kale crop!). And for more on my (too-short) one-night experience with AMOR, keep reading.

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